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EACEA National Policies Platform


2. Voluntary Activities

2.1 General context

Last update: 28 November 2023
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  1. Historical developments
  2. Main concepts

Historical developments

Voluntary work in Portugal emerged in the ‘Santas Casas da Misericórdia’ (charitable organisations) in the fifteenth century, having then a strong catholic influence and a welfare character.

In the XIX century, given the social and economic changes, as well as the separation of powers between Church and State, new volunteering profiles arose – developed by cooperatives, mutualistic models, associations and unions. This kind of voluntary work, ideologically shaped, aimed at the transformation of the political and social scene of that time.

In the Second Republic period (‘Estado Novo’, 1974-1933), this perspective of social and political volunteer work suffered a strong retraction. Most activities were prohibited and the State interfered more pronouncedly in the social sphere.

The period after the Carnation Revolution, on April 25, 1974, was a time of further expansion for volunteering, with an intervention in sectors such as education (adult literacy campaigns) or health. In this period, the associative youth movement gained a new relevance in society, and, consequently, youth volunteering does too.


Youth Policy and the promotion of Youth Volunteering

The promotion of youth volunteering has been, especially for the last 25 years, an objective in national youth policies. IPDJ and its preceding organisations in the area of youth, developed a series of measures and programmes for this purpose, such as:

In 1993, the Youth Institute created two programmes in the cooperation and solidarity sectors, namely:

- Youth Volunteers for Cooperation (JVC) – establishing measures concerning the implementation of youth volunteering actions for cooperation to be established with PALOP countries (Portuguese-speaking African Countries), by Decree-Law no. 205/93;

- Youth Volunteers for Solidarity (JVS) – establishing measures concerning the implementation of youth volunteering actions for solidarity (by Decree-Law no. 168/93).


After enacting the legal framework for volunteer work (Law no. 71/98 of 3rd November), youth volunteering in Portugal, as a public policy, has been promoted through the following means, by the Portuguese Youth Institute:

  • 2001 – Launch of the Youth Volunteering Information System. This information system, based on a web-platform, aimed to promote, through the Internet, the gathering of young people, entities promoting volunteer work, trainers and sponsors;
  • 2003 – Establishment of partnerships with various entities to promote volunteer work in different sectors, such as sports, social solidarity, environment and culture;
  • 2005 – Development of voluntary service activities in which the Youth Institute is the promoter.

In 2013, after 20 years of experiece, the IPDJ published the regulation of the Now Us (Agora Nós) volunteering programme (Ordinance no. 242/2013, of 2nd August ), which aimed to promote and encourage voluntary youth work as a means of acquiring skills, through the participation in projects applying non-formal education methodologies. This programme has led to the establishment of a registry of organisations that promote youth volunteering, bringing together all the information on volunteering projects simultaneously allowing for the registration of youngsters on those projects.

In 2018, by Resolution of the Council of Ministers No. 114-A/2018 4th September, PNJ was published — the National Youth Plan takes effect until 2021 in which several measures in the area of young volunteering are to be developed by IPDJ, I. P and by other state and private entities.


Main concepts

The concept of volunteering and volunteer is defined in Law no. 71/98 of 3rd November:

  • Article 2nd – ‘Volunteering is the set of actions of social and community interest carried out selflessly by individuals, in the context of non-profit projects, programmes and other forms of assistance developed by public or private entities, in service of persons, families and the community.’
  • Article 3rd – ‘Volunteer is the individual who freely, selflessly and responsibly, according to his own skills and in his spare time, undertakes to carry out voluntary activities under a promoting organisation.’


Since in Portugal there is no definition for youth volunteering, the measures put forward by the IPDJ, I.P., reach a population aged between 14 and 30, helping them to benefit from a voluntary service that intervenes in the community and is determinant, as a practice, in terms of acquiring skills through non-formal education processes.